Matthew Norman: When did you first realize you wanted to be a travel writer?
Janine Marsh: It happened by accident really. When I was much younger I was an editor on a glossy magazine and I loved it when I got sent on assignment. But, divorced with a baby, I needed more security and to be able to pay the mortgage so I got a job in a bank. It was only much later that I started a blog to keep my friends and family up to date with the work I was doing on my rundown old barn in France. I’d bought it for next to nothing and took six months off work to renovate it. What started as just a bit of fun—writing weekly blogs to keep my friends up to date with my plastering and bricklaying jobs—turned into an obsession as I wrote about the places I discovered in France, the culture, food, and just about everything.
What would you consider your breakthrough moment in travel writing?
The first month I wrote my blog I got around 500 views, I was amazed. It seemed enormous. Six months in, I was getting 60,000 views a month. A travel company asked me if I’d like to go on a trip and write about it for my blog. Then someone asked me if they could pay me to write something for the blog. Until that point I hadn’t considered that it could mean I didn’t have to work in a bank anymore.
On a press trip I met a journalist from the Financial Times, she was fascinated by my move from banking to travel writing and wrote about me. From that article, a publisher offered me a book deal and my book became a bestseller in the U.K. and U.S.
What steps did you take to achieve this breakthrough?
I often read about Instagrammers earning millions for posting a picture of themselves eating toast or lying on a beach. It didn’t work like that for me, I can tell you! It was a slog. At first I would write pretty much for peanuts and often for free. I needed the practice, I needed to establish my credentials and I needed to show that I could be versatile and write about a whole load of topics.
I often see professional writers saying that no one should write for free, and I guess in an ideal world that would be the case. But, I think when you’re starting out, or when you want to establish yourself, it’s not wrong to do it for free. In fact, I still do write for free when it suits me, for instance when I want to get the word out about something or I want coverage in a newspaper.
Do you have any hot tips to help aspiring travel writers get their first bit of business?
Have your own blog so that editors can see what your style is. Write regularly and try to build up a following. One reason I’ve been able to get jobs is that editors can see that my audience likes how I write and take photos—I’ve got around 250k followers on social media, completely organic, I can’t see the point in buying friends! The engagement level is high. I really appreciate my audience and I try to interact as much as I can.
How do you know when you have something to write about/a story?
I never, ever run out of ideas for writing. When I’m traveling I try to come up with different angles from my experiences, I don’t just write for one age group so there’s often a different way of looking at things for my audience. Often my itinerary is crammed full and there’s not much time to think so I try to do as much research before I go as I can. When I’m not traveling I write about where I live and what my life is like and the people I meet.
Janine Marsh is the editor of www.thegoodlifefrance.com and author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream.